Category Archives: atlanta places

more Mixed Use

(warning: this is a long one)

back in December, the word got around that the corner of the Reynoldstown neighborhood directly across the street from the Edgewood Shopping Center was ripe for development and someone was interested.

parcel-GIS-layered data flat
the affected property outlined on the current GIS map

the Physical Details:
20 residential lots comprise approximately 5.4 acres and contain 12 houses with 1 apparently vacant (1150 Wade St). Historic properties and their date of construction (according to, so take as estimates) are in orange, occupied properties in yellow. The oldest properties date 1920 though this one looks like it may be older and all new construction is from the 1990s and seems like they may be Habitat houses (though not the original owners). Judging by the GIS records most of these houses are rentals and some empty lots are owned by neighboring owners while others, like those lots in the southeast corner, are owned by an LLC.

1928 Atlanta City Map from Emory Library

parcel Pullen-aerial 1940 copy
1949 Aerial Atlas of Atlanta from GSU Special Collections.

You can tell by the above map from 1928 and aerial from around 1949, that the property has been in continuous use as single or two-family residential parcels since he 1920s. These houses once faced more homes across Moreland where Edgewood retail district now sits, although the majority of that parcel was an industrial brownfield.

from Edgewood Retail District

The buzz in December was oh-so-brief but the general consensus on the web seemed to be that this was super! residential and commercial development at an appropriate location, right next to Marta, TOD! and all that.

But I was appalled, in the name of development (yet another mixed-use multi-residential/commercial with plenty of parking complex) it’s ok to snatch up people’s homes, (historic homes), on lovely tree-filled lots??! also, I must admit, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the 1920s homes on Moreland Ave—particularly those sitting up above the street with a narrow staircase through their retaining wall, I can’t tell you how much I long to live in one…

On the other hand, proponents were right, proposals to build a high density residential development near a Marta station is positively, duh, brilliant. Despite my heartache at the loss of old houses and older trees, I can see the logic of a better transition from the single family neighborhood to the busy street and commercial hub, and as long as it’s done properly (without turning its back on the neighborhood or otherwise resulting in the deterioration of the next front line of single family properties) this could be perfect. Parking should not be centralized, neighborhood streets should not become congested (believe me, Rtown streets are too small to handle that, Wylie is bad enough), just, overall, it should be beneficial to and serve the existing community not just the young-up-and-coming it aims to attract. And of course, any development should position itself to take as much advantage of public transportation as possible. One person very soundly suggested a reworking of the MARTA entrance along Seaboard Ave. “When it was built,” they write, “there was no reason for [the entrance] to extend down the street toward Moreland but with this development in addition to the Edgewood development, there’s reason for MARTA riders to be coming and going in that direction.” Personally, after walking a quarter mile on elevated walkways in the opposite direction, the distance from where the Rtown entrance spits you out to Moreland is the only reason I don’t walk by the store on my way home. A long trek west just to go east is downright frustrating.

The thing is, it’s hard to believe any developer is going to do right by the community. My boyfriend welcomes the possibility of good restaurants right in our hood, but who’s to say there won’t just be more Willys’ and Subways (nothing wrong with that it’s just not what he has in mind)? and if there’s no improved access to the Marta station then residents and shoppers are just as unlikely to use public transit as they are now when accessing the Edgewood Retail District. And there are other concerns with affordable housing, will a flashy mixed use development like this speed the gentrification of Reynoldstown or will affordable housing be offered and neighborhood’s diversity maintained?

We might not have long to wonder.

The scoop:
An application (Z-13-53) was brought before the Zoning Review Board on February 20, 2014, to rezone the 20 contiguous parcels as Mixed Residential Commercial (MRC-3). Applicant: JW Homes, ℅ Jessica Hill Esq., 17 property owners were named in the application.

According to the Staff Report, the applicant included a conceptual site plan for a multifamily residential development comprising 285 units, 15,000 square feet of non-residential space and 467 parking spaces.

The Staff Report basically says what online commenters had indicated a few months ago:

    – that facilitating a mixed use development was suitable to this area and that “the zoning and site plan proposal are consistent with the recommendations of the Moreland Ave Corridor Study and goals and policy for the City for infill development near MARTA stations.”
    – the proposed development would have a positive influence on the quality of life and positive effect on adjacent properties, “filling an important gap in the urban fabric between the Edgewood Retail District and the MARTA Station.”
    – an MRC zoning for this area would allow for the best use of this site and much better use/opportunities than the current R-5 zoning allows for.

The staff recommendation was to approve the rezoning conditional that the development be conceptually consistent with the site plan and elevations submitted by The Preston Partnership, LLC, with this application and in compliance with any regulations of the Beltline Overlay District in which the property is located.
While I look fondly at these houses hanging out on the busy avenue, with their long front yards full of mature hardwoods (a nice separation from the street), most people seem to see the 20 residential lots as blighted. Few can imagine living on Moreland. And so, though my heart aches at the thought of those houses being bulldozed and the trees being cut down, there is great promise for a more transit-oriented Atlanta here. Let’s hope it works out.


the Clermont

I drove passed the Clermont Hotel yesterday, its state of rehabilitation apparent from the open windows (not removed, note) and the late afternoon sunlight highlighting the emptiness of the northwest corner rooms with a brilliant golden glow. I sat there in traffic admiring the effect and itching to get back to this post i’d put on hold months ago!

Clermont May 2013 IMG_7158

May 2, 2013.
It was a typical, low-key bachelorette party. Begun in Garden Hills we moved to a non-descript midtown eatery for dinner and margaritas. The sisters-in-law pushed food and drink in equal measure on the bride-to-be, wanting to see her happily toasted but still within the parameters of Uncle D’s no-vomitting request, understandably. They were doing a good job.

But we needed to liven up the evening, we had the limo for a few more hours and the cool Atlanta night was our oyster. We were flummoxed until V mentioned the Clermont Lounge and the party really began to take shape. Keeping secretive we got our bill and out of midtown, cruising down Ponce toward one of its most identifying buildings and a true Atlanta landmark.

Now, Ponce de Leon Avenue is one of the few places where Atlanta still feels gritty, and real. The sidewalks of Ponce espouse the ragged truths of a city that is so good at embellishment and reinvention, the seedy underside of a shiny Southern gem. The Clermont Lounge, opening in 1965 is the longest running strip club in Atlanta’s history and one of the city’s most iconic and irreverent establishments. Going to the Clermont is a rite of passage for any 20-something who finds themselves living in Atlanta but it also has its share of regulars and is a valid haunt for locals needing to reconnect with an oft forgotten side of Atlanta. But others are far better at summarizing the Clermont Lounge than I.

Most notably though to me, it is a place that accepts folks from any walk of life. The bouncer, the bartender, the patrons, are most un-judgmental. Customers are expected to follow the rules (no photos, cash only) but patrons range from coats and ties, leather jackets and heavy beards, forlorn sci-fi t-shirts, floosy H&M blouses, pink tucked-in button-ups, or jeans, converse and a cardigan (that’s me). My first visit had been unnecessarily late in life, and, sipping a vodka cranberry from a cheap plastic cup, I was uncomfortable and trying not to be. Newbies, you see, are an acceptable part of the Clermont’s clientele, and so the motley crew of our bachelorette party last May fit right into that basement dive.

The Clermont Lounge, however, is only a part of the building whose presence on Ponce since 1924 has a story in its own right. In 2002 intrepid reporter Scott Henry went undercover to reveal the mysteries of that landmark to the rest of us. His piece in Creative Loafing serves now as a memorial to a place and time the remainders of which are fast disappearing.

Early last year it was announced that Clermont Hotel had a buyer and the rumors started flying. Nearly everyone took a defensive offensive that the basement strip club better not be touched, even despite assurances. A 2009 competition held by Sidewalk Radio persona and developer Gene Kansas resurfaced as the winner of that design competition—G+G architects—was announced as the architects chosen for the new Clermont to be a boutique hotel. All the plans I have seen have been from the 2009 design competition indicate it was more of an exercise in conceptual re-imaginings and a stretching of architectural hubris than reality (i hope!). The City of Atlanta approved the rezoning to move the project along in August and in the process set forth a number of conditions that should make preservationists happy:

The design for the parking structure must be compatible with the original architectural character of the Clermont Hotel building …The most interesting condition is number eight, which stipulates that following the redevelopment of this property, the owner will be responsible for nominating the Clermont Hotel building as a local Landmark. (ragandbones)

This caveat that the Clermont be established as a local Landmark, and thus eligible for the National Register, should curtail any overly designed plans of ambitious architects/developers.

You can read more about the future of the Clermont Hotel at Curbed and Rag & Bone.

Clermont 2 IMG_7156

kitsch, preservation and good food

We’d just flown in from a hot and sunny Caribbean island, we’d been floating in saltwater at noon and drinking rum punches, but were plunged into an already dark, cold and VERY windy Atlanta at 6:30 pm. Following our fellow beach-clad passengers off the plane we made a pit stop to layer up, shorts to pants, a cardigan, a fleece, and beachy scarves tucked tight in all the crevasses to keep the wind out. That is really irrelevant to what happened next except to say that it seemed like a good night to try the much-anticipated Sobban. While the rest of Atlanta was huddled at home on this Tuesday night, we’d slip in for some warming vittles before the kitchen closed at 9.

Sobban is the new venture of Heirloom BBQ chefs and owners, a Korean / Southern diner. This would normally have no relevance on this blog here but moments after we walked in the door (we did have to wait a few minutes for a table) I asked where the restroom was (I’d been holding it cause we were in a hungry hurry) and the hostess bubbled up with an apology masked by the enthusiasm of telling us that this was an old Arby’s and so the bathroom was outside on the back of the building.

Sobban, Clairmont Rd, Decatur, GA

Sobban, Clairmont Rd, Decatur, GA

the first Arby's, according to and from

the first Arby’s, according to and from

I personally don’t remember Arby’s looking like this, but that’s because this is one of the MOST HISTORIC ARBY’S, c.1969, and close to the 50-year historic mark. From their first franchise in 1965 to 1975, this building was Arbys’ standard, designed by W. C. Riedel. According to one informed commenter here, “the Raffel Brothers (R-Bs, get it?) wanted a building free of chrome and neon that would attract a more discriminating clientele.” So they built in the shape of Conestoga wagon, with rustic stone pillars and a tile floor with images of steers supposed to be drawing the conestoga wagon—there was so much symbolism in these early designs!

As with most fast food structures, it has changed hands many times over the years but escaped demolition. There is a lot of this in Atlanta, famously on Buford Highway, a corridor where a lack of development/demolition has allowed for immigrant entrepreneurism. The Arby’s on Clairmont was, most recently, a pizza joint, then Kitsch’n 155, and now Sobban. I unearthed a blog post by Lee Bey of wbez Chicago about Kitsch’n 155, he chronicles the rehab by the excited owners at that time:
the biggest revelation was finding and restoring an original lighted, curved ceiling hiding above a dropped-ceiling added after Arby’s vacated the building. The find makes all the difference.

In Lee Bey’s photos you can also see the linoleum floor that had replaced the original square-tile mosaic. Back to our excited hostess: they had just pulled up the linoleum and discovered that the original tile floor was still there!

original Arby's floor at Sobban, Decatur

original Arby’s floor at Sobban, Decatur

I would say that despite changes over the years and missing the iconic Arby’s hat sign (long gone) it still retains most of it’s historic integrity.

yes, I just used the words “historic integrity” in relation to a fast food building.

now, how will these mid-century chains fare in National Register nominations? historic districts? will we consider them significant enough to require preservation or will it be left to a passionate few to preserve them in the name of kitsch?

To see more about the history of the remaining Arby’s structures go here.

<>Arby’s company history.

resuscitating the Rhodes Theatre for the weekend

Normally I write about somewhere I’ve been to recently maybe for some event but this post is about an event upcoming and about a place that features in daily life here at Rhodes Hall.

goATL and Living Walls at the Rhodes Theatre


Preservationists may be unaware of the cool inter-city urban performance art hijinks that are taking place next door to us this weekend at the Old Rhodes Theatre on the south side of Rhodes Hall, in the only remaining building of the Rhodes Center. We don’t often associate ourselves with the happening art scene (or they with us, hello) even though both the arts and us historic preservationists (and bikers, alt transit proponents, urban explorers, planners, foodies and farmers, etc) share a common goal of revitalizing our streets, our neighborhoods, and buildings. Preservationists support the Beltline yes, and Ponce City Market (good job guys) but when it comes to festivals like Streets Alive or art events like Living Walls, communication fails to connect these 2 entities. There may even be strife between them if, for instance, a historic building is painted by a revered graffiti artist. Peachtree’s Streets Alive this summer stopped just short of Rhodes Hall, and this weekend a Living Walls event is happening RIGHT NEXT DOOR with the expressed purpose (according to this CL article) of not just having public performance art but of “resuscitating a beloved Atlanta landmark” the Rhodes Theatre, a remnant of the 1930s shopping center that once surrounded Rhodes Hall.

“Perhaps most intriguing of all, gloATL and Living Wills will finish their fall Traveling Show right on Atlanta’s doorstep. When they’re not on the road, the busy groups are in the process of resuscitating a beloved Atlanta landmark, the Rhodes Theatre just off Peachtree Street near Rhodes Hall. The historic theatre, closed and empty since 1985, will be reopened for a weekend of performances, November 8-10.”

Many questions arise namely, huh? no one said anything to us about “resuscitating” our neighbor, is this for real or just a flippant use of language for an article, hopeful? has anyone actually made steps? talked to the owner? My assumption is that there are no true plans for revitalization of this building but it is exciting that the owner is letting it be used for community events like this in the interim.

Honestly, last we heard there was going to be a giant tower to forever overshadow us and block our incredible view of midtown. Just waiting on the economy.

photo-31The Rhodes Center was sold in 1985 to developer Scott Hudgins, the Theatre closed in December of 1985. The matching Rhodes Center building on the north side of Rhodes Hall was later developed for office space (Equifax building) and while the south side building with the theatre was gutted, it has not been demolished, yet. Anyway, I just went across the street to take a few pictures and the theatre was open! With images of 1980s mod carpet and panelling on the lobby walls, I peered into the darkness, of course it was empty. The gutted building has a dirt floor surrounded by a concrete pad. J and J were sweeping and painting what floor remains, the plan they say is to install grass in the center for a sort of indoor outdoor stage for gloATL performers.

The above image from the GSU archives looks down the street between Rhodes Hall and the Theatre when it was still operating (and Rhodes Hall served as home of the State Archives). The best history of the Rhodes Theatre (and mental image of Atlanta in the 1940s) I’ve ever seen was written by Tommy Jones here.

Lastly, word is there are NO plans for Living Walls to paint anything (except for the floor). So ardent preservationists can be relieved.


the South Site

I don’t want to harp on the icky stadium issue (New Atlanta Stadium to cost $1.2 billion, however, when N and I biked through there recently it got me thinking about what was in this area before.

friendship church atl
The Georgia Dome (c.1992) behind Mt. Vernon Baptist peeking out from behind Friendship Baptist Church on Mitchell St., Atlanta

To make way for the new Falcons stadium on the “south site,” two historic African-American churches will be demolished. The Friendship Baptist Church congregation dates its founding to 1862, and began construction of the current sanctuary in 1871. It shows up, on the corner of Mitchell St. and Haynes (removed in the 1990s for Friendship’s expansion after the areas roads were compromised by the construction of the Georgia Dome) and sharing a block with commercial and residential buildings, in the 1949 aerials below (bottom-most yellow square).

Mt. Vernon Baptist Church began in 1959 and still retains it’s mid-century sanctuary. Mt. Vernon was built at the intersection of Hunter (now MLK) and Haynes, a fragment of which still exists for now, on the 1949 aerials the lots appear to be empty (yellow block just below the Georgia Dome), and across Haynes St from the long back wall of an industrial rail yard.

On the edge of what we now call Vine City, this area was home to the African-American elite of Atlanta in the mid-20th century. It had long been home to African-American institutions like Morehouse and Spelman. In the 20th-century Vine City was home to Atlanta’s business and later Civil Rights leaders—Martin Luther King, Jr.’s family lived out there as did Alonzo Herndon, a leader in the business community. Friendship’s role in this community was strong, they even claim to have housed the earliest classes of Morehouse and Spelman and certainly contributed to the raising of Atlanta’s first black mayor, Maynard Jackson, whose father, Maynard, Sr., was pastor from 1945-1953.

So, to really picture this neighborhood before the Georgia Dome, I’m turning to some old maps (1949 aerials):


In 1949, the neighborhood west of the future Georgia Dome was primarily residential, packed tight on unpaved streets and alleys. The Dome itself sits halfway on the industrial yard that was east of Mt. Vernon, the rest of the World Congress Center and Philips Arena are located on what were once residential streets north of the industrial yard and between rail lines that once led to Terminal and Union stations. Commercial buildings lined Mitchell and the former Hunter St. which were entry points to the west side of Atlanta, only a few blocks from Terminal Station (bottom left purple block). Terminal Station was demolished in 1971-72, apparently beyond the reach of the preservationists who rallied to save the Fox a few years later and I wonder sometimes if my 18-year-old dad first entered Atlanta from under that arched colonnade, one of its last passengers.

Friendship Baptist then, constructed in 1871, saw the whole westside grow up around it. And though its location today feels adrift in a sea of redirected (mis-directed?) streets, parking lots and fences but its position in the community was anchored by this once-prominent location on Mitchell. No doubt the Mt. Vernon congregation felt they’d come across prime property too when they built in the 1950s just behind Friendship.

Today’s aerial view is full of holes, a widened Northside Dr. adds to the expanse of pavement here, blocks full of homes and shops that were not overlaid with oversized arenas have been redrawn with inward-looking housing projects or parking lots. There are many empty lots and fast food chains. There are a lot of fences. Imagine a downtown Atlanta street grid, walkable, human-scale, that marched westward from train tracks instead of a west side that’s been wiped clean of anything historic—except for Friendship Baptist Church. And now that, the root of so much Atlanta history, is about to be wiped clean too.

on Olmstedian curves

> they are all well and good for automobiles and park-like vistas, but for trying to get from point A to B, the Olmstedian curves of parks and parklike subdivisions only frustrate and delay! (:

I’ve been biking to work more and more lately thanks to the October Bike-to-Work challenge. My most bike-friendly route takes me straight through Piedmont Park followed by the neighborhood of Ansley Park which spits me out perfectly across the street from Rhodes Hall. This would be fine, but getting through these circulinear paths and streets puts me in straights almost every morning as, going against logic I turn away from my compass to get to my destination, lose my compass entirely, and throw my hands up to come out on the other side (hopefully) where ever that may be. No big deal, but when you’re commuting you usually aren’t out for a leisurely ride.

ansley park map 1911 tracks

Grading the wide streets of Ansley park, this is Peachtree Circle with Rhodes Hall in the background

Ironically, the neighborhood’s book, Ansley Park: 100 Years of Gracious Living calls Ansley park “a textbook example of ‘New Urbanism,’ …places where people can live, work and pla without getting in a car.” But Ansley Park’s parklike streets were actually designed FOR cars (or maybe cotton pickers?), and unless you’re jogging, it’s highly unlikely you’ll make it beyond your neighbor’s house without a car. The streets are large and unweildy, giant football fields of pavement rolling onward, this way and that until you don’t know up from down. It’s great for cars, you just sail through the streets, yielding here and there to an adjoining road, biking here is frustrating with the unnecessary number of hills, and pedestrians wishing to get anywhere have to sprint across the wide roads hoping a vehicle doesn’t suddenly appear. So ultimately, maybe my biggest complaint with Ansley Park is width of the streets even more so than the circular patterns they make.

I mean, biking here would certainly be enjoyable but it is not efficient.

Automobiles came to Atlanta in 1901 when bicycle dealer William B. Alexander introduced the first three motorized buggies and as a 1905 Atlanta Constitution article touted, Ansley Park was the first Atlanta suburb built with the automobile in mind: “In the very near future those who own homes in Ansley Park are going to sit on their verandas and see among their neighbors the best people in Atlanta and on the boulevards before their doors everybody who rides, drives, or ‘motors’ an automobile, for all roads must lead to these, the only driveways in Atlanta.” The prediction would come true, in 1910 there were 106 households, in 1920 there were 458, and in between there, in 1915, half of all Ansley Park households owned cars.

But this curvilinear, parklike idea urban planning really began before cars were even a dream. The Garden Suburb idea was part of the late 19th century urban reform aimed at providing remediation of the ills of the industrial city. Houses were set back against sweeping lawns, trees towered above curving streets (well, maybe not at first) and parks were set as gathering places for neighborly interactions. Ansley park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted’s chief surveyor, and is based on Olmsted’s plan 1869 plan for Riverside, Ill., one of the first planned suburban communities with this aesthetic. Even though the suburb is set within a larger urban context (and notably a part of it, not cut off like cul-de-sac subdivisions of later periods) the neighborhood still manages to secure its own little oasis.

Piedmont Park, the other bane of my commute, was designed by the Olmsted brothers (post-Frederick Law) based around an existing racetrack and the remains of the 1895 Cotton State Expo (which, following close behind the Chicago Columbian Exposition was also born of the City Beautiful Movement).

This morning I opted for a different route. I cut through just a corner of Piedmont (gosh I hope I can remember which path!), struggled up 12 St. road along the ridge of Peachtree St., the backbone of this city, for the next mile to work.

Traffic vs. Olmstedian curves? I’m leaning toward traffic right now.

Where the [Edgewood] Ends

Edgewood Ave

Edgewood Avenue has been a fly in the ointment, or a bee in our bonnet, or, well, it’s been crimping our style, our ability to get to and from anywhere, for a few months now. since… April?

The Beltline, you see, is going to pass through directly beneath the Edgewood Avenue Bridge, which sounds grand, but even despite it being a 107 years old it was one of those bridges that one hardly realized was a bridge until this discussion of it coming down (here a picture of THAT!). Maybe because it is so developed next to the apparently elevated Edgewood Ave, you might not have noticed that there was actually a bridge over the lowlands unless you’d been trepidaciously exploring the Beltline right-of-way. It was just a short section of the street where you suddenly had a good view of the Marta train.

Anyway, it’s been a a serious hindrance for commuters who pass through the Krog tunnel, from Inman Park to Reynoldstown and East Atlanta. N and I have been watching the process, whenever we go to Miso we walk to where the street ends and peer over the edge. It doesn’t look like a 107 year old bridge until you see a heavy layer of bricks a few feet down—part of an old road bed? I need to examine more really, and document. As for it’s need to be replaced, I can imagine that’s true, back when it was constructed, 1906 I suppose, reinforced concrete construction was a relatively new technology—although, the first reinforced concrete bridge built in 1889 is still standing as is the largest reinforced concrete bridge from that era, built in 1910, I guess ours just wasn’t as good as those.

It’s out for WHOLE YEAR, but one day the barricades will become impassible, so the other night N and I picnicked where the street ended, perched on sandbags watching the sky change colors and the light darken on a stray cat among the bulldozers below. We’ll keep strolling out there whenever we’re nearby and dangling our legs over the edge of what was once a ravine with a railroad running through it, until they put our street back in place. And then, oh THEN we’ll bike over AND under and not have to detour ever again!